The First Hermeneutic

1 Thess. 2:13   Gal. 1: 11, 12

The first Hermeneutic

Sola Scriptura, what does it mean?  Simply that we place nothing between us and the Bible and its interpretation. The Bible is the highest authority and we place nothing or no one above it. It also means that we resist allowing our own feelings, our culture, our current situation, our religious leaders or popular scientific theories to interpret the bible for us: we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.

This was the heart cry of the Reformation- to demand that the church put the authority of the pope and hierarchy back under Scripture and return to a historical and straight forward interpretation of the Bible. The church had at times outlawed the bible and refused to have it translated into the language of the people. It also refused the people the right of conscience to interpret the bible for themselves. The Reformation changed all that, but by the late 1700’s on, many new attacks on the way we view Scripture came into  play. 2 Tim 4: 3, 4, Colossians 2: 8

Some examples

  • Kant and Hume among others began to exalt a naturalistic world view that disallowed for miracles or anything that couldn’t embrace even the possibility of the supernatural. Therefore whole chunks of the Bible had to be reinterpreted in subordination to this presupposition.
  • Kierkegaard, influenced by the now debunked “assured results” of German Higher Criticism championed the idea that there were no hard and fast ways or rules to Scriptural interpretation, and that all interpretation was subject to the individual readers own feelings and subjective interpretation.
  • Acceptance of Darwin and Lyell led church leaders to subject the bible to these new interpretations of biology and geology, so the book of Genesis went under major surgery and Evangelical scholars began doing mental gymnastics trying to force scripture to conform to these new ideas. And they proved to be not lacking in imagination.

Fortunately, in England men like Spurgeon began to fight back and in America a group of scholars began to write a series of articles called, “The Fundamentals”. These articles simply called the brethren to return to the fundamental beliefs of the historic Christian faith, one of which was a belief that the Scriptures were divinely inspired by God Himself and reliable in all they teach. This is where and when the term “fundamentalist”, so reviled by the media and many Christians alike came into being.

These men did a fairly decent job of reaffirming the traditional view of Scriptures in people’s minds, and it once again became popular in many quarters to call the bible the word of God again…..but this was said with a reservation hidden to the general public..  While it had again become popular to claim loyalty to scripture in many churches and denominations, a not so subtle change had taken place in the way we interpret the Word of God. In the Western world man had successfully cast off the authority of the scripture and wasn’t eager to place the bonds of God’s morality back on again.

  1. the effects of existentialism (you cant know truth)
  2. And political correctness: religious pluralism (all beliefs are equal) subjective morality, multiculturalism (all cultures are equal) feminism (there is no difference in gender or gender roles) and many other forms.

These became the pervasive background noise which began to heavily influence the way we interpret Scripture. Basically, wherever and whenever the bible crosses a culturally incorrect tenet, it had to be reinterpreted. While using the Bible and claiming to believe it, the modern evangelicals or Protestants are becoming much like the scribes of Jer. 8:7, 8;

“Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times, and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming, but my people know not the judgment of the Lord. How do ye say, ‘We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us’? Lo, the false pen of the scribe works falseness.”

But the Bible is not silly putty, our job is to read and try to understand and obey the Scripture, not write it. Its Gods word not ours. 2 Peter 1: 20, 21

Biblical Hermeneutics; how do we interpret Scripture?

The first rule is we stay honest and let the bible speak for itself. It’s all to easy in a culture hostile to the Bible, to reinterpret scripture to fit the culture…Again, this is totally improper…we are to conform ourselves to scripture not the reverse.

And we can’t do that if we constantly reinterpret the Scriptures to be in conformity with the very culture we are trying to discern and call to righteousness.

The medieval church held three or four basic levels or ways of interpretation

  • Literal (the plain sense
  • allegorical and analogical (depending on spiritualizing, allegory, mystical)
  • tropological which dealt mainly with the moral application

The basic view of this period was to learn what you believe from the church first and then go find it in the Bible.

The Reformation reinstated the overarching importance of the literal or historical view. The basic view of this period was “Go to the Bible first and let the scriptures dictate what you believe.”

Today there are 3 main views

  • Roman Catholic, the church declares truth, placing the pope above the Scripture
  • The liberal; placing reason, or a atheistic presuppositions above scripture (ie Darwin, PC etc,)
  • The evangelical or fundamental view which is Scripture interprets Scripture.

Basically, the Church says, the liberal thinks, or the Bible says.

The Literal view

Doesn’t mean, as the critics love to claim, that we take everything the bible says literally. It means that we follow the well known basic rules of literature when we interpret. We recognize figures of speech like similes, metaphors, euphemisms and hyperbole.

I cried all night is a figure of speech not a literal truth.

The sun rise is at 6 am is figurative speech or the language of appearance, not to be taken literally.

I hate my brother… hyperbole….she’s angry, but probably doesn’t hate her brother really.

He’s under the weather, or, he passed away….euphemisms, not literal.

All Cretans are liars (biblical) a platitude or generalization, or hyperbole, not literally true.

We look at a passage and ask, is this an historical account where everything is accurately described, or is it history in a ballad or poetic where more embellishment, hyperbole and figures of speech like metaphors and similes come into play. Hebrew poetry takes on certain literal forms and is not difficult to recognize.

We look at the actual words, if it’s a difficult passage, we find all the other places they are used in scripture, we look at the context, and how the language was used outside the bible context in that time period. We compare the subject of the passage to other parts of the bible that cover the same subject, this is Scripture interpreting Scripture.

Most of the time, the actual sense and meaning of Scripture is all too easy to understand, using the same tools we all use every day. There is a lot more to say on this subject, but if we remember the first Hermeneutic, we will be off to a good start…beware of your own bias and that of the culture you live in, these are your greatest enemies in interpreting Scripture… be careful to keep them from leading you to reinterpret the Scripture to make it say what you want it to say…let it speak to your heart what God wants to say and you can’t go too far wrong. 2 Tim.3: 15, 16, 17


About notmanynoble

woodcutter from Washington State
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6 Responses to The First Hermeneutic

  1. Lance Ponder says:

    Well, not to sound like I’m trying to sell books here (I’ve given away 3x as many as I’ve sold), but this post speaks to the core premise of my book, Ask James one. I used James 1 as a subject about which to ask questions, then searched all of scripture for answers to questions raised when reading James. As an exercise in study (long before it became a book) I asked questions I wanted to know the answers to (or thought I already knew the answers to). I was often surprised and sometimes astounded by the answers. What I learned was you can ask anything about God’s word and it will interpret itself quite clearly. It was a richly rewarding exercise. I trust scripture more now than ever before.


  2. notmanynoble says:

    Excellent post, Lance. You can sell books on this blog anytime you want. I’ll buy one myself this April.


  3. Christmas is a time to remember our Lord and all that he has given us .
    Cheers Bill


  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention The First Hermeneutic | Notmanynoble's Blog --

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